Once a month, Chicago-area high school students make a trip to the Tribune Tower, home of the Chicago Tribune, to discuss the next issue of The Mash, a student-generated newspaper. Launched in 2008, the program has now expanded to more than 200 high schools in Chicago and nearby suburbs, reaching 175,000 teenagers weekly.

Product manager Maggie Wartik said the goal is to create a reliable news source created by teens for teens. “By allowing the teens to own the brand, we hope to engage the students more,” she said. One of Wartik’s responsibilities is to visit schools to inform faculty members about the program (and add distribution spots for the 75,000 free copies delivered to high school campuses). She also finds students who are interested in applying to work at the publication. In addition to Wartik, there are four other adults on staff at The Mash — an editor, two assistant editors, and one designer. But the majority of the content is generated by the students.

There are currently 85 student writers who meet once a month after school at Tribune Tower to discuss topics and generate assignments. They write their stories at home, meet a deadline, and work on edits — just like real-world journalists. Supported by the Tribune, the students are paid for their stories.

Wartik said unlike a school newspaper where stories center on that particular school, The Mash focuses on issues that affect all teens, from getting into college to what’s popular in music and movies. The Mash also has a strong online presence with blogs and promotions at themash.com and on social media through Facebook and Twitter.

“Our 85 (students) are our voice to what’s going on out there,” Wartik said. For students, it’s a chance to develop journalism skills, thanks to training from Tribune reporters and staff. The program also hosts a summer journalism camp.

“It’s an amazing opportunity to work one-on-one with an editor,” said Julianne Micoleta, a 17-year-old high school junior who has written for The Mash for a year-and-a-half. “The editors want us to be successful.”

Micoleta said her reporting and interviewing have improved so much that she feels she is able to do both in her sleep now. “The main thing is to act like a professional. It is a job, and what we do reflects (The Mash) and the Tribune.”

Wartik said despite the challenges currently facing the media industry, she feels encouraged the Tribune is dedicated to engaging teens through The Mash’s efforts. “I’m proud that our parent company has supported and will continue to support this initiative, inviting teenagers into our home, and providing them with an incredible experience.”

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